Founding members of the Riot Grrrl movement, Bratmobile came roaring out of the same early-'90s Olympia, Wash., music scene that spawned, among others, Heavens to Betsy and Bikini Kill, bands that, like Bratmobile, made up for what they lacked in musical prowess with backpacks full of inspiration and attitude. Their mix of punk, politics and feminist outrage encouraged hundreds of girls and young women to form bands, write zines, kick macho jocks in the nuts or otherwise make themselves heard. By the mid-'90s, however, Riot Grrrl had run its course as a cultural phenomenon, and all three bands had broken up. Nowadays, Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna drops phat beats in Le Tigre, Heavens to Betsy's Corrin Tucker leads the unapologetically rocking Sleater-Kinney, and Bratmobile ... well, Bratmobile is back with the group's best album, Ladies, Women and Girls.
All the elements of the classic Bratmobile formula are still in place, with Erin Smith's one-finger guitar riffs, Molly Neuman's no-frills-few-fills drumming and Allison Wolfe's off-key cheerleader vocals, but the band has never sounded better. The production on the album is a huge leap in quality, with bass and keyboards filling in empty spaces on some songs and strong vocal harmonies on others. The upgrade in playing has only lifted Bratmobile from slightly more competent than the Shaggs to slightly less competent than the Donnas, so how they'll stack up against the Weezer knockoffs, Top 40 pop-punkers and screamo metal bands that make up today's punk scene is anybody's guess.
Lyrically, Ladies, Women and Girls breathlessly races from bratty kiss-offs ("A girl could starve on a boy like you") to girl pride ("You say girls are dumb, but not this one") to emotional torment ("Someone told me to be strong, but look at me, how can I be"), with plenty of quotable lines, should anyone still be quoting Bratmobile. The thing is, Bratmobile may have made their best album six years too late. The underground music scene they helped kickstart barely exists, and testosterone still rules rock radio. If this album inspires just one girl to kick just one rap-metal moron in the nuts, though, Bratmobile will surely think it's all worthwhile.